Don’t worry, this story is not your everyday FIRE fairy tale. It is a story of lost lifetime savings, a gambling addiction, chronic health challenges and a failed semi-retirement test drive. You will see – if we can get Financial Independence thing done, anyone can!
I am originally from Europe, where many things are a little different when it comes to finances. In a way, people are born Mustachians where I am from – frugality seems to run in their blood. My dad has worked in the same well-paid government job for over 30 years and we never had to worry about money when I was young. Even though we most certainly could have “afforded” a more luxurious lifestyle, we always lived well below our means. My parents have always driven used cars and would never have financed one. Debt is a foreign concept to them. We also hardly ever ate out and didn’t have cable TV or any of the other luxuries you read about on US-based FIRE blogs.
There is no such thing as the Australian dream where I am from. Society doesn’t expect you to “climb the property ladder”. Case in point: My parents have been renting their entire lives. And they are not alone – only a handful of my friends back home own their homes. Most rent.
I know, this probably all sounds like a mustachian wonderland. But there is one catch: While most folks back home are frugal and good at saving, they are also extremely conservative when it comes to money. They would rather let inflation eat away at the Euros in their savings accounts than invest them. My parents always taught me how important it is to work hard and have some money in the bank, but that was about it. Growing up, I did not know anyone who owned shares or an investment property. Investing just wasn’t a thing. So I would not learn about investing and building wealth for a long time.
After I finished high school, I went travelling for a year to find myself. I didn’t find myself, but I did find someone else – Mr. Flamingo.
Catching Waves in Queensland
Mr. Flamingo grew up in Queensland and describes himself as a “simple guy who enjoys the simple things in life”. He refers to his family as a “typical Aussie family living the Australian dream”. Money and spending decisions were not discussed a lot at his house. His father liked to splurge out spontaneously whereas his mother was more of a saver. Naturally, when the topic of money did come up, it usually led to an argument between his mother and father.
The mistakes his parents made taught him that it is important to think about money and have a long-term financial plan. Mr. Flamingo knew from an early age that if he wanted something, he had to go out and earn it. He started earning and saving money from early on. He started out doing odd jobs around the house to earn some pocket money. Then, at age 13, he got his first job. At first, he saved for things he wanted to buy – a new TV and a stereo system. But then he kept going, even though his friends at school called him a “tightarse”. He just liked the feeling of having some money stashed away.
Rich Flamingo, Poor Flamingo
Mr. Flamingo had always rejected the “Australian dream” mentality and wanted to live a life of adventure. He had read “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” in his late teens and was committed to saving up a decent freedom fund. His dream was to create a self-sufficient, independent lifestyle for himself that would only require him to work sporadically. After high school, he joined the military and saved most of his earnings. Just a few years later, he had saved a substantial sum of money. It was time to invest. He didn’t know the right tools to grow his wealth and just started trying things: He invested in shares (and sold at the bottom), then flipped a couple of apartments (successfully). Then he got impatient. In addition, his real estate investing success made him a little arrogant. Impatience, arrogance and a lack of experience are a bad mix. Eventually, in his early 20s, Mr. Flamingo lost most of his money in a high-risk investment in a start-up.
After losing his life savings, Mr. Flamingo needed a break. He left the military and decided to take a year off to figure out what to do and where to go next. That’s when he ran into your friend Mrs. Flamingo.
The Easy Years
Once I was back in Europe – with Mr. Flamingo in tow – I started uni and got a degree. And then another one. Ahh, the joys of a free tertiary education system! We travelled a lot during my uni years and I also got to spend a semester at a university in Spain and a summer in France. I held a few casual part-time jobs over the years to supplement my student budget. However, I had no concept of what the “real” adult working world is like. I was blissfully unaware of the rat race I would enter just a few years later.
During my uni years, Mr. Flamingo worked full-time, but in rather relaxed and flexible jobs with that still allowed him a lot of free time. He didn’t earn much as a new migrant in Europe, but that didn’t bother him. We had enough and, more importantly, we had fun. Losing the nest egg he had worked so hard for had thrown him off. All he wanted to do was to enjoy life for a while.
We both had a great time during my uni years. We went on many adventures, dodgy low-cost trips across Europe and thoroughly enjoyed our low-cost, low-stress lifestyle.
However, all of that changed when I graduated from uni and started my first “real” job.
You can read all about my rat race reality check in part 2 of our story.